You’ll never walk alone

A tribute to my family and friends who walked beside me on my journey through single-parenting.

When I arrived back in the country with my 4.4 children, I hadn’t planned very far ahead.

Other than get back to Cape Town; find a place to stay; and see an obstetrician, I didn’t have too much on my calendar. It was just so good to be home again though. And looking at my mountain. There is no other like it.  I had begun to fear that I would die in the American mid-west and never see the spectacular sight of God’s granite masterpiece again. I still breathe in deeply and gratefully when I look at Table Mountain and thank the Lord for bringing me home.

The most beautiful view in the World

The first few nights we squeezed into my sister’s tiny two-bedroom apartment in Blouberg. I don’t think she had quite anticipated the chaos of our 4.4-person-four-suitcase home invasion. But there, camping in her sophisticated home, we started a new family of two moms and five youngsters.

Brigid selflessly gave up her bed for me and the toddlasaurus, while she and four-year-old Michael shared the lounge and I think we were able to just fit ‘the big kids’ into her spare room, around all our worldly possessions in the five pieces of luggage we’d hauled across the Atlantic.

Hero, Heroine, Superhero, Super Sister" Canvas Print by ...

We had never been very close as children, Brigid and I, but she became my fiercest defender and closest ally from that time on. It has been as if she stepped out of the shadows as my guardian angel and ever since has been a phone call away when the children’s ward at home became overcrowded, or when someone needed fetching from school, and I couldn’t make it. If Super Sister were a Marvel hero, she’d be her, swooping in with her capes (and second-hand ones for sharing), not mention little treats for the gannets who flocked to greet her at the door every time she appeared.

She was in the operating theatre when Liam was born and at every important awards evening through the years and sometimes even at sports matches, although she was not too keen about the rainy ones – bad weather minces her hair.

I didn’t know at the time that before we arrived, back in Cape Town my uncle had rallied the family together and decided on how they would look after us, who could provide shelter, and who would feed us for the first while.

My cousin Grant had recently moved into a small semi-detached cottage in the area and was due to go away on business so we were able to move into his home for a couple of weeks, and to our delight there was a patchwork garden out back where the children could let off steam.

It was a beautiful little home: everything was new with stylish cushions and photographs artfully curated around the living room. There was glass everywhere.

So, the first thing I did was re-curate things in frames that might break out of the reach of the junior wrestlers and we set about unpacking our bags for a while (after a lengthy lecture about this not being our home, so please play outside and take care of Grant’s things) Then I cast my eye over the ingredients I had at my disposal (delivered in boxes by my aunts to see us through the week) in order to make a birthday cake for Sean who turned nine the day we arrived back in the country.

While I was hunting around in the bachelor’s kitchen for something to bake the cake in, I heard a loud crash and, racing into the lounge, I found my two sons’ guilty faces raised in abject remorse (and not a little fear), a soccer ball and a broken photo frame… I had forgotten that balls bounce.

I suppose I yelled and ranted a bit – I can’t remember, but what I do remember is how sad I felt for them – they had been cooped up for days, first in planes; then in an apartment and now in the confines of this ultra-mod pad. That was when I knew we’d need a big garden if we were going to survive… and a glass repair shop.

My cousin Gail arrived with a car for me which she had had in her garage for a time, and which had been driven by a friend who’d borrowed it before leaving for overseas, and Gail hadn’t got around to selling it. It had been in an accident previously and the driver’s seat was angled slightly down to the left, but it was for us a luxury we hadn’t expected (even though anyone spotting me wriggling my pregnant belly around the steering wheel like a sumo wrestler, would have had a good laugh).

We drove that car for several years before I was finally able to purchase Le Moto, the family bus, which served nearly 15 more years hard time with the Mongies. Although, I very nearly killed my whole family in it once:

Back when Parklands Main Road only extended as far as the circle at the Woolworths Centre (and long before the Centre was built) I wanted to see the new school that was being built down that road and spotting that the road past the circle had just been tarred, I drove on round and onto the new road, to the delight of the boys (who cheered at the jolt) and the horror of the workmen there, because it had not actually been finished properly and the car bounced down a good 15 centimetres onto the new road.

The car seemed to be alright and I turned around and drove gingerly and shamefacedly past the roadworkers who shook their heads patronizingly.

That afternoon we took a drive through to the Southern suburbs to a Spur birthday party for one of another cousin’s sons. As we came down the Blue Route towards Constantia, Caitlin, perched in the middle of the back seat between her brothers, to keep the peace, called out primly, ‘Mommy, there is smoke in the car. Should there be?’

And indeed there was: the car’s ramping of the roadway earlier must have damaged the exhaust pipe and I was slowly asphyxiating my beloved children on carbon monoxide fumes. We decamped quickly to the edge of the freeway, a rather risky exercise with all the nippers, but we needed to clear the smoke. And all I could think was: ‘What will Gail say when I tell her, I broke her car even more?! And how will I find the money to fix it?!’

My beloved cousin Susan and her husband, Sean came to the rescue and while they looked after the children at the party, I took the car to be repaired. And Sean insisted on paying for it. They like Gail, will never know how their generosity was appreciated and how much I still think of these acts of kindness that saw me through the tough times.

There were so many people who pitched in to help, to listen and to boost my drooping spirits in those early days. People say to me ‘How did you manage? Well I had help!

And when I failed to realise that I was being carried on angel’s wings, The Good Lord sent me a cuff-to-the-head reminder that I was not alone. I vividly remember weeping in the garage one night after finally getting the last ill child to sleep, in the middle of a virulent family stomach bug that tore through the nippers like a stampede of shoppers through a bottle store after lockdown ends. Every sheet was fouled and every child had been crying for me. And then the washing machine broke down mid-cycle.

That was when the camel’s spinal cord snapped. I shouted at God, demanding to know where He was when I was so alone in my struggles. Just then I heard the phone ring in the kitchen: my friend Bernie was on the line. “I just called to see how you are, because I was thinking of you,’ she said.

I have never dared question God again.

And that is why, notwithstanding their winning form pre-lockdown, I support Liverpool FC. (That my son writes a football blog https://www.anfieldcentral.co.uk may have something to do with it. Their anthem is a constant reminder to the lonely:

You’ll never walk alone.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gerry and the Pacemakers

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll…

Never walk alone

Forgiveness

7 things to know about surviving hurt and trying to forgive.

‘Forgiveness’ by Mario Sanchez Nevado

I have faced my share of betrayal and spite, and sadly I have realized over the years that it seems to be a part of the human condition, this coming to terms with the damage others inflict in our lives.

I once asked for a formula to follow to try to forgive someone who had hurt me badly, and not even priests could give me a how-to guide. I think it is a path we often travel alone, but one can produce a joy more profound than the hurt.

These are the 7 things I have done and what I have learnt about surviving hurt and about forgiveness.

1. I kept an angry book

When I first realized I would need to raise five little tykes on my own with little or no consistent financial assistance, I was filled with soul-penetrating hurt and an impotent rage, that I thought would overwhelm me.

So, I wrote it all down. I filled a cheap little brown exercise book with my profound personal hurt and the rejection which threatened to destroy my fragile sense of self. And I scribbled vile words in several languages in an attempt to purge the acid that burned inside me.

Late at night I vented into that book every impassioned thing I wanted to say and needed to say, yet was unable to because I was unable to address them in person, in the knowledge that even if I could have reached his voice, I could not reach his spirit.

One day, I came to the end of the notebook. And I realized I didn’t need to buy another. I was done. The poison was out.

And then I found love

I put the book aside and some years later when I was packing to move into a new house with The Maestro, I threw it away.

2. Everyone is the hero in her own story

This is especially true of people who inflict pain on others. Some years ago I worked with a colleague who made my life so unbearable, I was forced to leave. I was filled with the penetrating pain at being falsely accused, as well as anger and anxiety at the loss of my livelihood, and concern for my children who were innocent victims yet again.

It was at this time, that I tried in vain to google ‘forgiveness for dummies’ because I knew that the hurt would crush me and demolish my serenity if I didn’t.

Then I realised something: she actually thought she was right. In her mind, she was the avenging angel, and I was a cruel woman who had to be vanquished.

In my newfound empathy for my tormentor, and her cabal, I was able to understand her a little, and in the end, I felt sorry for her. Because she was simply wrong.

Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.

Oscar Wilde

3. Forgiveness is not about the abuser

Letting go of anger, no matter how righteous the rage may be, is a healing process and brings true serenity. When you are angry with someone, that person neither knows nor cares how you feel. So, your feelings are an invisible toxin that kills only you.

Physical action helps to externalize the ache. That’s why often jogging or cycling till your drop helps some people. I am not that crazy. However, I did find that walking alongside the sea gave me a sense of perspective on my life, measured against the ebb and flow of the eternal tide.

Redhead Woman In White Dress Standing On Beach And Looking To ...

4. It’s much more difficult to forgive someone when the abuse is ongoing

If you are able to walk away from a situation or draw a line under toxic relationships, it is much easier to let go of the emotional damage they cause, but when you face the same day-in-and-day-out bullying or verbal abuse or permanent penury that often accompanies great betrayal, it is not so simple.

There is recourse in the law for some things naturally, but I found that the legal route is almost as brutal as the original crime, and I had to look inside of myself to find solutions for the problems. Being honest with myself about how and why I felt unhinged by my emotions allowed me to park the anger temporarily so that it has eventually become a side-blur as I journey through life.

5. Time heals

It is true that time takes some of the sting out the raw pain you endure when first you are wounded. And I have found that suffering has made me more compassionate towards others. You just have to wait it out. 

6. ‘The truth will out’

As Shakespeare tells us in The Merchant of Venice (and many other of his plays), ‘the truth will out.’ And it really does in the end. It is good to be vindicated, but the waiting to be ‘exalted above [your] foes’ as the psalmist promises, can be long and requires patience.

Far be it for me to suggest we should wish for such vengeful deliverance, but it is human nature to hope for it when we have been wronged.  I have found though that the truth has a wily way of popping up to haunt those who abuse it.

7. The greatest ‘revenge’ is to be happy and successful

Laugh long and often. Life is absurd, but there is much joy and friendship to be found, even in your darkest hours. You can experience profound joy in the midst of your suffering.

This is how I have found my peace.

‘Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.’

Mark Twain
Fly boots flower crush - YouTube

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

17 things to remember about apologising

President Cyril Ramaphosa was criticized by a caller on a talk-radio show this week, as ‘being weak’ for apologising for mistakes made in the process of addressing our country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

I completely disagree. I think it is a sign of strength that a person can apologise (and a rarity from a politician). I think it shows an acknowledgement and empathy for other people ‘s feelings and opinions if you can say you are sorry to someone who has been hurt by your words or actions. And in a leader, that kind of humility is important.

I have a saying with my staff that ‘sometimes only grovel will do.’

Because we mess up – like all people – and much time is saved when the offended party is given that recognition of their hurt or inconvenience.

Here are some tips about apologizing (with a disclaimer that I don’t always get these right either):

1. Believe you have offended. Apologise even if the mistake or slight was unintended.

There is nothing worse than being gaslighted by the very person who has caused you hurt, or upset you. To have one’s offended feelings then denied, adds insult to injury.  The first rule of conflict management is to believe what the other person is saying. It is not for you to judge whether a person is over-reacting either.

2. Relationships matter more than your ego or being right.

A servant leader knows the simple truth that ‘it’s not about me.’ Expressing remorse shows your partner or client that the relationship you have with them is more important than your ego or being right.

When you’ve done something wrong, admit it. No one in history has choked to death from swallowing her pride.’

3. Mean it. Only two year olds are ‘sorry, not sorry.

Is Your Child Acting Out—or Just Acting His Age? | Parents

We all remember being made to ‘say sorry to your sister!’ and hearing that muttering ‘Sorreeeee!’ which was a clear sign that you were not! We’re grown-ups now though and admitting regret should be sincere and humble.

Recently after a spat between two of my my offspring, that had become particularly personal, had been calmed down, I asked each to say something nice about the other. My daughter told her brother he had nice eyes. His retort: ‘I like your glasses.’

Clearly ‘Not sorry.’

4. Don’t ruin the apology with a ‘but.’

Likewise, saying ‘but’ after an apology is just another version of saying ‘sorry, not sorry.’ See point 2 above.

5. Apologies do not absolve you of responsibility/blame/legal ramifications

Even when a criminal apologises to his victims in court, he is not excused his sentence because he is remorseful. There is still a consequence that he must accept. The same is true when we screw up.  We still need to fix what we broke.

In South Africa, not enough people apologised for Apartheid, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s noble aims, let alone spent their old age making amends, (or licence plates in prison).

Of course, sometimes you can land up in court for apologising because you may have admitted legal liability, but I really hate it when companies or politicians use all of those euphemisms like ‘it was a regrettable incident (that 100 of their employees died down the mine that they did not ensure was safe, or contracted cancer following their factory’s effluent poisoning the drinking water’ …

Avoiding acceptance of responsibility is cowardly. If you stuffed up, admit it! That’s the honourable thing to do, however unfortunately, honour, like cigarettes during lockdown, is hard to come by when a company is facing financial losses through litigation. Sometimes they apologise but add those little disclaimers such as ‘while the company regrets…. this in no way is an acceptance of liability…’

Large underwear is needed: confess (It’s good for the soul – trust me I’m Catholic so I know), apologise and face the music.

6. Don’t wait

Express remorse immediately when you discover you printed someone ‘s name incorrectly on the awards ceremony programme, or before someone sees the scratch on their car, or when there has been a delay in response time to an issue. Make contact even before the injured party becomes aware of the situation, if possible. That shows you’re sincere and not hiding it. It also tends to take the sting out of the error or insult and can calm down a furious client and gain their respect for being someone who owns her mistakes.

‘When you realise you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow when it’s still warm.’

Dan Heist

7. There is always something to be sorry about in a conflict situation

Even if the angry customer in front of you is dead wrong. There is always something to apologise for such as a miscommunication that has led to the misunderstanding. If you take ownership of even a part of the complaint, the complainant may be slightly mollified at least.

Always acknowledge their feelings as valid.

8. Apologies heal relationships and build trust

Humans are weird about ‘losing face’ and being the first to apologise. In fact, to me, that is the moral high ground and shows a stronger person, confident in herself because true strength requires humility. How many of us know families who no longer speak because siblings or children or parents refuse to be the first person to ‘give in’ as apologising is considered a surrender.

In the end, we all want to feel validated. Likewise, if someone apologises to you, apologise back for your part, enabling both parties to heal and feel forgiven.

9. Take the long view

Be prepared to lose the battle in order to win the war. If your goal is to win over a group of people to co-operate with you, it can be of strategic importance to suck it up and apologise unreservedly in the small things so that they will believe you and respect you in the long term.

10. Apologies take courage

It is not always easy to apologise because it often involves facing the wrath of the offended party, and that is another reason why I say that it is strong leaders who are able to do this. An apology makes one vulnerable in the relationship (or so many think) and so they avoid doing so which is sad because the courage to own up to being flawed is both liberating and empowering.

The first to apologise is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.’

11. Don’t respond to anger or annoyance in another with reeling out a list of their own similar crimes

While it may be true that you may have experienced similar treatment at the plaintiff’s hands, now is not the time to say, ‘well you always/never do that either’

(btw ‘always’ and ‘never’ should never feature in arguments.)

‘I am so sorry! I know how annoying this is when it happens to me,’ is a far more conciliatory response and won’t escalate the conflict.

12. Don’t expect forgiveness

Don’t apologise because you want to be forgiven. Apologise because you want to heal the relationship.

13. Apologise to children.

That is how you teach them to be sorry too.

14. Sorry means I won’t do it again

My mother always told me that ‘Sorry means you won’t do it again,’ and while this assumes a path to perfection that is not always possible for horribly flawed humans, it should cause us to pause and determine a way to at the very least try to avoid the behaviour, or in business (and at home) build structures and procedures to prevent a recurrence of the error. Otherwise, you run the risk of being (or being seen to be) once again ‘sorry, not sorry.’

15. Make amends

As much as it is a powerful means of spiritually cleansing oneself, priests who prescribe prayerful penance sometimes let we sinners off the hook a bit. Saying a few ‘’our Fathers’ will not build the bridge again with one’s husband and is not as effective as going home from Confession and baking a cake for your beloved or washing his car. Showing and not just telling is a powerful way to prove repentance, and it takes more effort.

Chocolate and flowers help too:

16. A good leader apologises for the team without shifting the blame to the individual who may have caused the fault.

Not only will this gain you the thanks of your team for having their backs, it is important to remember that as a leader you may not be responsible for the mess, but you are always accountable for it.

17. Apologising is empowering

When you realise that in fact you lose nothing by apologising, there is profound sense of peace and inner strength, which leads to greater resilience.

“Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.”

– Kevin Hancock

The Lockdown Lowdown – a dictionary of the state of the nation

4511684 #women, #model, #redhead, #Sergey Fat, #500px, #window ...

Abseil down the alphabet as I Bring you the Lockdown Lowdown to fight COVID-19

Abuse down                what the police must ensure because women in lockdown are vulnerable

Back down                  what we’re all learning to do when we irritate one another

Cut down                     what I ought to do with the chocolate I am eating

Duck down                  what I do when someone walks past and sees me still in my pyjamas

Echo down                  what the wind is doing down the empty corridors of our schools

Flop down                   what my teenage son does after an exhausting day of online lessons

Go down                     what our bank balances and businesses are doing

Hair down                  what we’re all letting our hair do because our stylists are also in

quarantine

Inch down                  what we want the infection rate to do

Jaw down                   what happens to my face at people’s stupidity, lawlessness and spite

Kick down                  what I want to do to my front door

Level down                what we want to do to our lockdown status

Mask down                 what we mustn’t be caught with

No – down                  what I keep saying to the Mad Lab who is the only happy person in the

house

Online down              what our teachers and students are getting (down) pat

Pop down                    what I miss doing to Zara

Quarantine down      what I wish for those stuck in ICU

Run down                    what the joggers are doing in the road during exercise time and what

motorists are starting to wish they could do to them

Shot down                   what the Pres. did tonight to my hopes of getting out of here soon

Throw down                what we should do with the gauntlet to this virus

Up down                      what our emotions are doing

Very down                   what we must look out for in our families in case they are depressed

Wifi down                   what we fear the most

Xenophobia down     what must happen because we can’t keep blaming countries         

Yobbos down              what the count is showing – not much litter being strewn around

Zip down                     what is happening to my clothing because I couldn’t stop eating those

Lindt balls.

The Learning Pit – an aid for homeschooling parents who are being driven to drink

Remote Learning during Lockdown is the pits – but that’s okay if they’re Learning Pits.

I thought I’d take pity on all those parents resorting to TikTok and YouTube to post parodies of their children working at home and who rant about reaching for the Valium to get through the school day with their own beloved offspring who have turned into spawn of the Remote Learning Apocalypse. So I am letting you in on a teaching secret: the Learning Pit. Understanding this simple model may assist you and your child with school tasks at home and let you in on (some) of the magic educators learn when they study pedagogy.

The Learning Pit is model of learning developed by James Nottingham.  https://www.bookdepository.com/Learning-Challenge-James-Nottingham/9781506376424

It is a feature of 21st century learning and teaching that students are required to grapple with the unknown; face the fear of ignorance and learn to overcome.

The Learning Pit is an immensely empowering concept.

And it applies not only to a concept at school, but to all problems needing solving, so it is a guided way to coping with the problems of life (like avoiding opening the wine before lunch while your child is working on parts of speech.)

Now more than ever, during Lockdown, when children are learning remotely, this is a way to focus your youngsters and assist them to be self-sufficient. Besides reading, teaching a child strategies to learn is one of the most effective ways to equip a developing mind for a lifetime of successful learning.

Nottingham’s model suggests that real learning what we call ‘deep learning’ only happens when something new is learned and that can be a scary experience (almost as scary for parents who are facing similar pits during their ‘homeschooling experiments’ during COVID-19 lockdown at the moment.)

The concept is simple: if a youngster encounters a new section of work (the learning pit) and he ‘gets it’ easily, he can leap across the chasm like an avatar with that faux loping stride leaping across gorges (unrealistically) in Fortnite and can hurry on to his next challenge. He hasn’t learned anything new yet though. FYI Bright leaners do this often through school and often battle later on because they haven’t learnt HOW to navigate learning challenges so it’s important to stimulate them all the time (extend them until they face something hard) to ensure they learn the skills. All too often I have seen rosy-cheeked Dux scholars in prep school turn into average achievers later on in high school because they never learned about the struggle that is the learning pit. But they make great collaborators and cheerleaders in peer teaching -see ‘Collaborate’ below – if they understand both the work and the process.

So how does it work?

I love this child’s depiction of the pit:

When our intrepid warriors arrive at a pit that looks too dangerous and fear and confusion sets in, it’s game-on.  I urge teachers to encourage our learners to leap into that pit with both feet, as soon as they recognize that they don’t understand something, we want them to feel a sense of adventure and excitement, as if they are going on a quest.  A key factor in 21st century education is also the demystifying of the learning process so we point out each phase of the learning pit a child is in so they can chart their progress.

  • ‘Having a go’

This diagram above illustrates the dangers at the bottom of the pit and challenges to be overcome like on an epic journey.  (like those moments when your drooping Petal whines ‘I can’t! I don’t know what to do? And you’re thinking the same only with a few Anglo-Saxon words in between). But they are encouraged to jump on in and ‘have a go’ like the valiant gladiators of old.

  • A Leap of Faith

Tell them: The work may be tricky but the first important question to ask yourself is: ‘How can I do this’ – that is almost the key to crossing the bottom of the monster-filled abyss. I remember a scene in The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones (oh so young Harrison Ford) takes a leap of faith into the unknown and finds that there was a way across the impassible ravine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-JIfjNnnMA

That first step shows the way, but the adventurer still has to climb up and out of the learning pit.

Notice that nothing new has yet been learned, but the student has already started to climb out of the pit, because attitude to learning is so important. This is why we believe in making learning fun. If a child is playing, he doesn’t realize that he’s already crossed the chasm and is climbing.

  • Try something else

As with all climbs, things can be quite steep and so a good pupil should know that there can be different ways of solving things: ‘What else can I try?’

Recent problem-solving by clothing manufacturers who were forced to shut their doors overnight and stop trading due to the lockdown, have re-designed and developed their sports masks into fashionable and effective alternatives for the COVID-exerciser. Instead of focusing on products they can’t sell they have focused their marketing and sales on these much-needed current products, and become essential services in the process. This kind of creative thinking is what keeps businesses afloat when times change, so when your child is struggling with a Mathematics problem, don’t show him the way you were taught – if you can even remember(!) and not at first anyway. Encourage him to try different ways because this is part of developing creativity, which stand him in good stead when his career faces a challenge.

A child must own the problem; WANT to solve it and struggle with it a bit. We all know what happened to Kodak, The Concorde, Blockbuster Video Stores and Blackberry. They would not/could not innovate. There is nothing wrong with using the fruit and veges to work out answers to basic arithmetic. Make problems relevant to real life so they have a connection. So if all you do is guide them to see a link to their own experience, you will have helped them focus on alternative ways of looking at things. Just don’t do it for them. (Walk away and mix teh margaritas for later.)

Innovation is a vital skill to learn and it’s the first step of that upward climb to problem solving so give your child lots spare paper or let her open lots of word docs and keep trying different things.

Vi Active Carbon Mask with filters for Cyclists and other sportswomen in the fight against COVID-19
  • Grit

Trying can be exhausting though and is not necessarily immediately rewarding. Learning warriors need courage and resilience and what we call grit to believe that they can. (like that little train we all remember from our youthful storybooks: ‘I think I can…’) There is a dawning hope, with each small success. Encourage her to push herself just a little bit harder, for just a little bit longer. Athletes understand this about training – the brain must also be trained to think. And sweat is involved.

Again I plead with parents not to give in and tell your child the answer. We see too many high school students these days whose parents have given them everything on a plate and they have never learnt the simple truth that success does not come without hours of (their own) hard work. They throw their hands up in despair, blame the teacher, the school, the government and everyone else because they simply don’t know how to keep at something. Things like re-writes, editing, touch ups, second drafts, conceptualization, planning are all part of keeping at it; they need to keep slogging away, and not accepting pedestrian prose or mediocrity. Cheer them on when they do.

10 000 hours at a task brings you professionalism in something. Sadly, too few students these days know how to keep at something for that long. It’s not their fault. Everything in their world is ‘insta’ – the ‘gram, their cappuccino, the news, and take-aways to their doors; binging on series has prevented us from yearning and imagining, and even gaming teaches devotees to use the cheats. Without sounding as old as my own children say I am, have to confess that I worry that we are growing a nation of quitters and lazy thinkers who want instant answers. There are loads of fun ways teachers encourage children to stick at something: competitions, promised rewards, clues and even a simple thing like timing them gives them an end in sight to strive for, so draw your child into the game of learning and keep them on track. (It will work for yourself too, especially if your choice of the fruit of the vine is the prize). Let them play music if that is their poison. (Earphones are a wonderful invention and protect us from said noise pollution).

Having said that, it is possible that you are experiencing a more genteel time at home with your family, (if you’re not exhausted from multi-tasking – running your home and empire AND Junior’s Work programme) and that can allow learners a chance to explore tangential interests and it’s consequently a great opportunity for them to go slightly off track and discover things they are really interested in. We all know this is when the real learning happens, so allow them a little intellectual bundu bashing. (They may develop an app in that time that will make them famous and you rich – more wine!)

  • Collaborate

Collaboration is one of the fundamentals of 21st century education and even during lockdown it can be achieved via Teams and WhatsApp calls. Our offspring are connected. They know how to crowd-source ideas. One of mine decided today a name change was in order for her next birthday so she threw a few ideas at her friends and bingo she had her new name. (and it wasn’t B-I-N-G-O … now there’s a blast-from-the-past kiddies tune!) So they know how to connect. It’s our job as educators and parents to guide them into using these skills to co-operate on learning tasks the same way they collaborate in their social lives. ‘Phone a friend’ is a good catch phrase to have in your classroom or on the fridge – and it’s not just a phone call – this applies to all those lifelines : teacher, google, friend, parent, asking for clues. Re-watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ and draw up your own set of lifelines to point them at when they get to this stage. ‘Read a book, search for other resources, make an appointment for a one-on-one with your teacher on Teams, You Tube videos’ – all of these are important. YouTube may well replace tecahers one day – you can learn anything on there. My eldest son watched something on ‘how to escape from a hijacking’ and it worked two weeks later when someone started shooting at a traffic light. You can learn a lot from the Tube, not least of which is how to research.)

By this time of the day, you may have your wine in hand and all you will have to do is wave your glass at the fridge to point out the ‘Phone a friend’ options.

I have always believed that a ‘lazy’ teacher is an effective educator if he is steering his students into self-discoveries and can be a profound influence on his charges. (I use the word ‘lazy’ hesitantly and for effect because I mean it in the sense that he doesn’t spoonfeed his pupils with dished up answers on the set platter of pretty notes and worksheets. In fact much time and forethought goes into planning a lesson that requires the children to do – to struggle, engage, chew on the pencil (not the stylus please though), scratch heads, stare into the vistas of space, doodle, cross out and keep trying. That is facilitating discovery. That is teaching). 

Collaboration through peer-learning is important to facillitate – it empowers both teacher and learner and encourages empathy and altruism, qualities that are in rather short supply. Suggest siblings help each other, while you finish your own work (or wine).

  • Self-confidence

You have almost summited the mountain if you reach the point that a child is thinking ‘I am getting there.’ This is that heady moment when a learner picks up the pace, and feels the adrenalin of final summitting the Everest of his subject. This is self-belief and is so vital for self-esteem. This is where the teacher/parent is the cheerleader, the folks back home waving the flag of support. So, don’t rob them of this high by giving them the answer because next time they will expect you to do it again. This is when you tell them they are fabulous and you knew they could do it; when you paste their artwork on the fridge/wall outside to motivate passers-by like my neighbor did with her daughter.

  • Success

Give them that buzz of accomplishment and let them own the ‘Eureka moment.’ Because next time they will jump into the pit more eagerly because they know they can do it and they will need you less and less and eventually, if you are very lucky, and lockdown ends, they’ll leave home, buy you a wine farm and support you in your old age… because you taught them to solve problems on their own. School is a place and time to prepare you for life and let’s face it life is hard!

You will have taught them to think.

And you gave them an even greater gift: confidence to do it all again.

So that is the secret from the oracle today:

When it all gets too much for you, tell them to go and jump into the pit…. and resist the urge to bury them in there. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll find a way to dig themselves out anyway!

8 Things I am missing during lockdown

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How many times have I wished for time off where I could stay at home and sleep! Despite not sleeping too much during lockdown due to my permanent state of angst, not uncommon I believe, there are a few things that would have made it bearable:

  1. Books

I am a touch-it-turn-it kinda reading gal. The libraries closed for lockdown too quickly for me to stock up, even though the seven books they allow you would have been finished in the first week anyway. And of course I couldn’t have used Shannon and Michael’s cards as usual because there are fines on them (again). Yes, the shame! I don’t learn. And it’s not that I don’t read fast enough; I just don’t get around to returning them, despite ‘holiday’ stamps and amnesties.

I love the comfort of holding a book, and being able to page back to check on facts or reread lyrical passages. And since I could never afford to buy all the books I read, the library is my place. Mind you, some of them do reek of old ladies’ cigarettes and there a few unidentifiable (thank goodness) food stains on them from time to time. But then to be honest, I have probably been guilty of dropping a teeny bit of avo from my pizza onto an Elizabeth George novel on occasion.

Once I had finished Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (enjoyable, even though he pooh- poohed the idea that it was actually Marlowe who wrote all the great works, or the sonnets at least) and Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (gripping with a powerful anti-colonial, anti-war message, and part of my ongoing love affair with modern African literature), I had nothing. Unless I wanted to lose myself in The Maestro’s tomes on Liszt (I didn’t), I had to do as my girls had insisted and try online.

Well. That’s been a disaster. First of all, our wifi is about as inconsistent as an adolescent love affair and the adverts… really they could make a maiden blush! I have started two books both by Harlan Coben, another favourite of mine, but I keep losing internet, which freezes the narrative at a critical moment; then the page refreshes to forty pages before where I actually am, and I have to wade back through it all so much that I need to splint my wrist from all the swiping. And I do not need to be looking at penile extensions more than once a day thank you (who does that to themselves anyway?!).

The girls say I am using the wrong sites. Andrew says he’ll pay for me to download better versions, but honestly, I baulk at paying for books.

2. Sunday Lunch

Sunday lunch is a tradition in our home even more important than Friday pizzas. Now don’t be mistaken we’re not being starved of our sabbath prandials (far from it – the fair Caitlin, our resident Masterchef, has stuffed us like willing Christmas turkeys with so many delectable vittles that the family scale has signed a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ form.) But Sunday lunch at our house usually involves all the special people in our family who don’t live in the Mad House with us, arriving in a cacophony of hellos and hugs and we all catch up.

It’s when the children’s other mother, my sister Brigid, debates with The Maestro about which news channel in the US is more biased, whether capitalism is better than communism (every Sunday); she admonishes the young people about the dangers of jumping stop streets, walking alone, locking doors, and taking Sandown Road late at night. She warns Liam that Nellie is not getting enough exercise and that I work too hard. I miss her nagging love. And she always brings those scrumptious tiny Doughnuts from Woolworths.

It’s when Michael and Gabby, and Lizzy and Dylan sail in when they can and the love gets louder. Sometimes we Facetime Sean and Jordan and before he left fot the UK, Mika’s dry humour also graced our table occasionally, especially if there was lamb.

I miss my other family. My people. I miss the noise. (Ok not the noise – there’s still plenty of that.)

3. Cappuccino, Hot Chocolate and Haircuts

Okay so I might as well get my middle-class entitlement out of the way, but I really do miss popping into The Mugg for a cup of chatting and only News Café can make Hot Chocolate that special way – they use cream of course. And Aruna the Lion Mane-Tamer is much missed.

4. Zara

While smokers and drinkers are venting about draconian shopping rules, spare a thought for the other addicts – the shopaholics among us. I know we can shop for clothes now, but you can’t try on in most places and what’s a girl to do if she’s not sure?!

Also, I bought two darling little suits before lockdown and now I feel like a jilted bride with nowhere to wear them. Never mind the fact that I probably can’t fit into them anymore (thanks to the fair Caitlin’s culinary excellence) and will stumble around like a nerd on a first date in my high heels.

I miss dressing up.

I know I’m shallow.

But not entirely:

5. Live Mass

I miss going to mass and being physically present to worship with my community. The online thing just doesn’t do it for me. It’s like watching a film and playing church-church when we were little. I hope I don’t sound blasphemous, by saying that, but I want to be in God’s house with my family of believers.

It’s tough being on time for church now because Fr Carlo can’t see you race to your laptop to join in (or not) and the guilt of being late for mass is greatly reduced. As any good Catholic can testify to, we are a guilt-driven bunch. It also doesn’t seem quite right to be in your pyjamas in front of the Lord. (I know I know, God doesn’t mind, but still it feels unseemly). And the temptation to boil the kettle for a cuppa during the sermon quickly is quite strong…

6. Choice

I’m not crazy about exercising, as my pristine gym outfits, shiny white cross trainers and the exercise bike, formerly-known-as-the-clothes-horse can attest to, but I do like to go for a stroll on the weekends. Mostly if I walk at all though (when it is an azure, wind-free day that Cape Town is renowned for)  I amble along the beachfront path anyway: I avoid walking on the beach itself. But being told I am not allowed to put my tootsies in the icy water of Table Bay, makes the thought of being on the beach all the more alluring.

It’s the forbidden fruit syndrome I suppose.

I like being able to just pop into the shop quickly on my way home. Now I have to be home by a certain time, and the shops are closed after a particular hour. I miss the whole concept of flexi.

Normally I’d love to be told I have to work from home. Now I am bristling at not being able to go into school. I want the choice.

Mind you I am such a goodie-two-shoes I would never dream of disobeying the law. I’m blaming it on my convent upbringing combined with my rebellious Celtish forebears for making me so conflicted. I hope their inherited genes are just as warlike in antibody production when it counts.

7. Guilt-free Rest

We’ve essentially been working every day since lockdown and have missed out on the April school holidays in the race to ready schools to morph into online institutions overnight. Don’t get me wrong, there has been some down time (especially because I haven’t had frequent interruptions – you know those – ‘Have you just got a sec?’ inserts that tend to catch you mid-email or profound thought, and result in multiple open Windows in your brain crashing into early onset dementia, never mind the software ones which make your laptop slower than morning traffic on the N1 (pre-lockdown of course).) But I cannot seem to shake this permanent state of anxiety. I think it’s guilt (blame the Catholic in me again) that I should be in my office, or with my children, or working harder, or watching a ministerial update, or doing something I’ve forgotten… like going to work.

8. Hugs

Much has been written about how hard it is for affectionate people to social-distance. How we are going to avoid dishing out such love to our school children is going to be a real challenge. But it is really hard, even for us. I touched a colleague’s arm in thanks today and felt as if I’d committed attempted murder. (I had just sanitized my hands, but the guilt was huge.) And to avoid natural gestures for a tactile person is tough.  

I suppose we’ll get used to social distancing. I mean we do that don’t-come-in-my-space dance in the shop with strangers, but it is more difficult with those we love and haven’t seen for a while.

I also noticed a weird (in a good way) phenomenon on the road driving home today: cars are keeping better following distances – it’s as if we have grown accustomed to keeping an eye on the spaces between us in queues and we have extrapolated that into traffic. Long may that last!

But I miss a good hug though.

All this missing things shows that I’d have made a terrible citizen in wartime, and I have to remind myself that eventually we shall have all these things again. This is a war though and we simply MUST. So others CAN. Altruism may be in short supply, but now is the time that those of us who are leaders should be modelling it.

There is something unique to humans, even those of us who may be champing at the bit: we can and do adapt to change. And remarkably quickly too. (The Maestro did the washing today so evolution is real). Darwin would be proud of us.

The rest is just weather. It too shall pass.

A Mother’s Day reflection, dedicated to the one who first made me a mother:

Not for sensitive readers. (I’m serious – this one is a bit icky.)

This COVID-19 lockdown has stirred up memories of another period of self-isolation I experienced, back in 1991, also not of my own choice.

When Sean was born, almost 28 (Yikes!) years ago, someone commented that he was a miracle baby.

He wasn’t really (any more so than other newborns who survive at the hands of bewildered maternal academics who don’t realize that babies cannot and have not read Marina Petropulis, The Baby and Child Care Handbook, cover to cover like them). He survived birth despite a massive head (It has since proved to hold a magnificent brain at least) that required a caesarean section to prevent us both from becoming maternal and infant death statistics (12 in every 100 live births in 1992 in South Africa – not including HIV/AIDS stats).

His Great-Aunt Jean’s remark was not referring to these facts however. She was in fact reflecting on how a year previously I had been recovering from some rather unpleasant chemotherapy after a hydatidiform mole in my uterus.

At a time when I have been googling coronaviruses and other such nasties, I finally took the time to have a look at the suckers that took over my innards like grotesque, water-filled red bunches of grapes. Hideous:

I’ll spare you the real-life photographs because there ain’t nothing pretty about the condition, which arises from an aberration just after conception and results in the chorionic tissue around the developing embryo, going into hyperdrive and blowing up like balloons, resulting in the natural abortion of the embryonic life and causes extensive haemorrhaging, which in my case necessitated chemotherapy.  (pardon my lay(wo)man’s biology, my dear medical friends)

We’ll never know how long the early life within me survived, but what should have been a happy visit to the doctor to see and hear the heartbeat of the baby that would make us parents, ended in tears (even though I’d been unprepared to be pregnant in the first place). All I remember from that occasion was the awkward silence that greeted the radiographer’s first enthusiastic movements of the sensor around my already swollen belly (a symptom of this condition btw, in that a woman presents with larger-than-normal uterine growth at an early stage because of the explosion of beta-HCG hormones). Then she stammered that she would call the doctor, and he confirmed our fears: no heartbeat, the miscarriage already showing as a Milky Way of snowflakes.

So, we went home to grieve and get used to the idea that the previous weeks of trying to come to terms with an unexpected pregnancy were over, and the realization that there is something worse than unplanned parenthood– not being pregnant anymore. And a sense of defeat. And guilt. No amount of soothing from the gynaecologist who tried to console me that 25% of first pregnancies abort spontaneously, could prevent that combination of loss and failure.  

There was a sense of relief when I actually began to bleed, but that soon turned to fear as the bleeding continued over days and I had to abandon my final examination invigilation of the 1990 Grade 10 English examination my students were writing, mid-exam, and race home, where clot after clot soaked into our new grey carpet.

The resultant procedure was quick, if unpleasant, after a nightmare drive through to the hospital in mid-morning traffic atop a pile of towels which fortunately I never saw again. I remember awakening from the anaesthesia in a foetal position on a gurney, in an awful mockery of what should have been growing inside me. I was crying for my mother from the pain, and, noticing the fingerprints on my stomach the next day, it’s not surprising – they must have pressed really hard to scour out the remnants of the miscarried pregnancy.

It didn’t end there though, because, as it turned out  thanks to the instinct and foresight of my doctor who dispatched samples for biopsy, a diagnosis of hydatidiform mole was possible… and treated effectively over the next four months. It was no consolation to hear that this was a very rare condition (One in 2 500 women in those days were the proud sufferers of the special privilege of being this unusual!)

But that’s how I happened to have a front row seat on the First Gulf War because I was booked off during the treatment, which was progressively more debilitating as the weeks wore on with the last couple of sessions necessitating my husband who was not very tall, having to stagger to the car with me (no light-weight, despite my small stature) in his arms, in a comical parody of a romantic hero carrying off his princess, following a drip containing Actinomyacin (I still remember how it looked, a substance kindly Professor Bloch jokingly referred to as pricier than VAT 69, obviously his Scottish malt of choice! I didn’t care then…(or now).

A10025-0.005 - Actinomycin D [Actinomycin C1] [Dactinomycin], 5 ...

On good days, I sat in our small lounge (the marks of my miscarriage now hidden under a strategically-placed coffee table) sorting out teaching resources and glued to live reports on the first war to be televised live, like a sick action movie.

This was the age of war correspondents like Christiane Amanpour, Peter Arnett, and Bernard Shaw. (In a feminist aside, it is interesting to note that it is Christiane Amanpour I remember the most, although you won’t find her in the Wikipedia pages on reporters during that time!) I, like so many other watchers, stared in fascinated horror at the destruction of Baghdad and the human suffering that resulted. In a macabre way, it distracted me from my own unfortunate situation.

Eventually though, the effects of the chemotherapy became too great even to sit, and the last couple of weeks I spent in bed, unable to get up and go down to the lounge at all.

Sadly, chemotherapy does not involve a romantic, Little Women-ish state of fatigue. It is accompanied by horrible side-effects which made the knowledge that this was supposedly good for me, seem like a ghastly, dishonest joke and further punishment for being such a rubbish incubator of life. I suffered from mouth ulcers that made eating impossible so I lived on a diet of Ultramel custard and yoghurt. When my veins collapsed they sourced places all the way up my arms, but to this day when someone flicks the top of my hand, I devolve into paroxysms of panic.

The worst was the acne. It seems foolish now with the distance of wisdom and age to remember that disfigurement with so much agony, but for an insecure young woman it was devastating. Painful, angry red blotches in a rash of leaking cysts covered my entire face and chest and spread all over onto my back. (it is not called acne vulgaris for nothing). I have never felt so ugly and consequently have always felt exquisitely protective of my school pupils over the years who have suffered from this condition.  I suppose this suffering was worth it to deepen my compassion for teenagers.

My sanity-saviours during this time were my friends, Traci and Jean (who would later become godmother to Caitlin) and my mother’s daily ‘just-popping-in-for-tea’ visits. I am forever grateful for their ‘not seeing’ the vileness, and loving me through it all. The memory of their care is the one positive memory I carry from that time of struggling through the pain and exhaustion and the unspoken fear that I would never have children of my own.

Months of regular testing (ironically the same as a pregnancy test) followed the chemotherapy and so the transfer of my husband to Port Elizabeth, away from my support system, was especially hard, along with the realization that career trumps wives for many couples in the cold world of businessmen.

…And then there was Sean, who came along after we were given the all-clear. Many think that having a (now) large family was an unconscious desire to prove that I could have babies. They may be partly right, (Perhaps I’m just greedy) but all I know is that Sean was the first of the five best things I have ever done… and a special kind of miracle.

I wish my mother were still with us to see the wonders that are her grandchildren (She saw only two, who were infants when she passed away).

Happy Mother’s Day, especially to those mothers who have triumphed over miscarriage and disease to find that indefinable joy of motherhood, and cried along the way.